Normally I would not post on this topic, but I was asked by the one church committee  I participate with, to do a lecture on quilting for the art exhibition we are having at the church. I had previously done something similar for the Ethiopian Church Art exhibit we put on about 6 months ago. As I have explained before, my undergraduate degree is in Art History and I actually enjoy researching, especially if it is about art. I learned quite a bit, and yes, it was actually interesting, despite my initial trepidations. I’m not saying I want to quilt, but I have more respect for those who do. My talk was well-received by the people who came to the exhibit opening, so I’m happy about that.

Quilting Art Talk

The term “quilt” comes from the Latin culcita, which means “a stuffed sack”. Quilts came into existence as far back as “the Egyptian First Dynasty about 3400 B.C. Other examples were found in China, dating to somewhere between the first century B.C. to the second century A.D.”[1]Quilting was also found in Persia, Turkestan and Northern Africa. It arrived in Europe in the eleventh century. These quilts were first used as bed and wall coverings and they were passed down from generation to generation and seen as heirlooms. Wealthy family made quilts made out of whole fabrics, while poorer families used scrapped cloth.

“In the Middle Ages quilting was also used to produce clothing that was light as well as warm. It was also used for protective wear such as the padded jackets worn under armor to make it more comfortable or even, if very thick, as the top layer for people too poor to afford metal armor. Quilting was at its most popular in this country in the 17th century: in the early years for the quilted silk doublets and breeches worn by wealthy courtiers, and later on for petticoats, jackets and waistcoats.”[2]

Quilts were brought over to America by English settlers in the 18th Century. Unlike what most people think, most Colonial homes did not have quilts on their beds. This was reserved for the very wealthy, and again they were made them out of whole pieces of fabric. Most Colonial settlers used blankets, bed rugs or coverlets.

“Women did not sit by the fire and quilt in Colonial times, it was a romantic notion made up later in the 19th century. By about 1840 the textile industry had grown to the point that fabric was readily available to most families. Only then did quilting become an occupation of the everyday woman.”[3]

During the Civil War is when quilts really came into their own in America. They were originally made “to raise money for the war effort as well as to keep soldiers warm,”[4] although there were some with an even larger purpose. Quilts that featured a particular block pattern called the “Log Cabin” were put on a clothesline outside a home that was part of the Underground Railroad, which helped African slaves escape from slavery.

Let me explain what I actually mean when I use the term “quilts”. They are usually made up of two layers of fabric, the top and back, with a padding layer in-between called batting or wadding, that is all held together by stitching (which can be plain or in decorative patterns). Historically, quilts in America were made up of single pieces of cloth such as silk, cotton, wool or linen. Nowadays 100% cotton is the preferable material. Scrap quilts use many different kinds of material, for example, “Antique crazy quilts combined silk, wool and cotton.”[5]

Many different tools are used when creating a quilt. “For handwork, a needle, some pins, thread and a pair of scissors are enough to get started. For machine-sewing, add a sewing machine to the list. Basic sewing supplies such as a measuring tape, seam ripper, pincushion, colored pencils, graph paper, tracing paper, and a light box are just some of tools used by quilt makers. Today, most hand quilters prefer the use of hoops to the confinement of large floor frames, as they require a great deal of space.”[6]

There are many different ways to create quilts.  As I have mentioned before one technique is Whole Cloth or Plain quilts, which uses one whole piece of cloth as a top piece. “A whole cloth quilt is about color and texture – one color and a lot of texture; it’s simple and elegant.”[7] Another common type of quilting is Pieced, otherwise known as Patchwork, which uses different fabrics pieced together to create a design. A variation of Pieced Quilting is called Paper/Foundation Piecing, which layers the fabric over a paper pattern or foundation. The pattern is numbered which “guides the construction of the block or quilt from beginning to end, making it a little bit like color-by-number.”[8] Appliqué is the third most common kind of quilting, and is “the process of placing shapes onto a background and then sewing them to the background with one of a various number of hand or machine techniques.”[9] Memory quilts are also another very popular type of quilting. They are created to remember a loved one, celebrate an event like a baby’s birth, or he

A technique that has come into greater prominence since the 1960s is the Art quilt. These works of art are made to inspire the owner and are usually hung up rather than being used as a bed covering. “An art quilt’s style can be abstract or realistic. It often uses materials that are unusual in traditional quilts (paint, metal, Angelina fibers [a very fine fabric that reflects and refracts light and adds a touch of sparkle], or Tyvek [a building material], to name a few), and may be three-dimensional. It may employ surface design and construction techniques that are not used in traditional quilting.”[10]

When I was completing my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work at the Valentine Richmond History Center as a Security Guard for a traveling quilt exhibition from the Smithsonian called Women of Taste: A Collaboration Celebrating Quilt Artists and Chefs. “It was organized with Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California, [who] paired women chefs and quilters to create 50 dynamic culinary quilts.”[11] While the exhibit was going on, I not only protected the artwork, but got to do mini-tours around the 25 art quilts presented in the show.


[2] Taken 12/20/13 from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/quilting-introduction/, 2013.

[3] Taken 12/23/13 from Judy Anne Johnson Breneman of Patches From the Past at: http://www.historyofquilts.com/colonial.html, 2002.

[5]Taken 12/20/13 from House of White Birches at: http://www.quiltersworld.com/basics.php, 1999-2006.

[6] Ibid.

[7]Taken 12/20/13 from Geta Garma of Geta’s Quilting Studio at: http://cadouri-din-inima.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-to-make-wholecloth-quilts-tutorial.html, March 22. 2013

[8]Taken 12/20/13 from Pat Sloan of The Learning Center at: http://quiltinggallery.com/2012/03/06/quilting-types-and-styles/ , March 12, 2012.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Ibid.

[11] Taken 12/20/13 from the Smithsonian’s list of archived exhibitions at: http://www.sites.si.edu/exhibitions/exhibits/archived_exhibitions/women_of_taste.htm, 1999-2002.

Other Resources Used